The biggest rival for Stoughton junior Jayden Zywicki on the cross country course throughout his career has been Oregon junior Yordanos Zelinski.
The latest chapter in the rivalry went to Zywicki, who won the WIAA Stoughton sectional in a time of 16 minutes, 42 seconds on Saturday, May 1, at SToughton High School.
“It’s a big improvement, and I PR’d on the course,” said Zywicki, who took 11th in the sectional last year. “Having friends at the race really was a motivation. I could really hear them cheering.”
Stoughton had all five runners finish in the top 21 to win the team title with 63 points and qualify for state as a team for the first time since 2000. That year also was the last time a Viking runner – Aaron Castleberg – won an individual sectional title.
New Glarus-Monticello took second (75) to earn the second team qualifying spot in the 14-team sectional.
Stoughton junior Colton Hansen finished 10th (17:59.3) and senior Christian Smith took 11th (18:00.07). Senior teammate Alexander Wicks placed 20th (18:40.7) and senior Cade Millam took 21st (18:41.4).
“All of the hard work our team has put in paid off,” Hansen said. “We have been pushing each other for many years. It’s great to get to state as a team.”
Hansen said his goal was to stick with the top two runners from New Glarus/Monticello.
“I ended up being the first second runner,” he said. “It was a good race strategy. We had a lot of guys in that mix. That is what helped us win. Everyone knew the game plan.”
Zelinski was one of the five individual state qualifiers not on the top two teams.
Zywicki has been challenging Zelisnki in conference meets and the sectional during his career working to get the upperhand.
Zywicki surged by Zelinski at the 1.5-mile mark.
“I noticed that he started to tire out,” Zywicki said of Zelinski. “I felt strong so I pushed it and felt like I would have enough at the end.”
Zywicki outkicked Evansville senior Riley Stillman over the final 160-meters for the sectional championship by about 2 seconds.
“It was a great effort on his part,” Stoughton coach Pat Schneider said of Zywicki. “He dug deep for it.”
Schneider said the Vikings worked on closing the final 160-meters strong because the finish line had to be moved in the race to accommodate WIAA COVID-19 restrictions and fans.
“We practiced that stretch because I wanted them to know where the finish line was at,” Schneider said.
Schneider said the other top two contenders vying for state were New Glarus/Monticello and Janesville Craig.
“We knew we had to run with New Glarus/Monticello,” Schneider said. “We got lucky to be in the same race to key off of them (Glarner Knights). I feel a little bad for Janesville Craig because they were in a slower race. It was a superb effort.”